With the coal industry seemingly on the ropes, due largely to the Marcellus Shale-led domestic natural gas boom, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the industry’s future.
Bloomberg News floats one way to tap into coal’s resources while minimizing surface contaminants: it’s called coal gasification. Proponents say the technique is a much cleaner way to turn coal seams into energy, but skeptics argue the process “has limited applicability,” and has the potential to contaminate water supplies.
How’s this process work?
…Beds, or seams, of underground coal are ignited, and the resulting combustible gas is piped out for use in electricity generation or as a raw material in chemical production.
The burn can be controlled by regulating the flow of oxygen, so there’s slim chance of giving rise to another Centralia, the abandoned Pennsylvania town where a coal seam near the surface has been burning since 1962.
The method also leaves underground the worst parts of coal — the mercury, arsenic and lead. And it allows for a much simpler capture of greenhouse gases, which can be piped back into the seam and stored there or sold to oil producers who inject it into wells to boost recovery rates.